Now that the 2019 NFL Draft is underway, and the roster heading into the offseason is close to finalized—though always fluid—it’s time to take stock of where the Pittsburgh Steelers stand. Specifically where Steelers players stand individually based on what we have seen happen over the course of the past few months.
A stock evaluation can take a couple of different approaches and I’ll try to make clear my reasonings. In some cases it will be based on more long-term trends, such as an accumulation of offseason activity. In other instances it will be a direct response to something that just happened. So we can see a player more than once over the course of the summer as we head toward training camp.
Player: CB Justin Layne
Stock Value: Up
When you’re talking about a rookie, there isn’t going to be much to go on in almost all cases before they at least get into training camp. Third-round Michigan State cornerback Justin Layne is not unique in that regard by any means.
With that said, it is at least good to know that he seemed to acclimate well to his surroundings during the spring practices, in which he himself acknowledged that he was able to make some plays on the football, though he said that his main focus was simply digesting the playbook, which he felt generally comfortable with.
Many draft analysts saw in Layne a steal. Though he is regarded as inexperienced—he played cornerback for fewer than three complete seasons at the college level after originally being recruited as a wide receiver—he showed many encouraging traits during his college career, even if he lacked the turnovers, and he obviously has the physical characteristics you would want in a cornerback.
In many ways, he could be viewed as a much more advanced Brian Allen, who through two NFL seasons has failed to develop significantly as a pro-level cornerback after spending almost all of his football life prior to that playing on the offensive side of the ball.
I do think there is also an opportunity, albeit slight, for Layne to ascend the depth chart this year, at the least to the level of number three cornerback, something that I talked about yesterday. Both Artie Burns and Cameron Sutton, the two players he will be primarily competing with, have in the past been dumped from that next-man-up role themselves due to an unsatisfactory level of play.
The Steelers’ track record of drafting at the position does not play in the rookie’s favor, but of course it’s not his fault whom they have previously drafted. They have had some success with players they did not draft, namely Joe Haden, Mike Hilton, and formerly, Ross Cockrell. They even got the most, I would argue, out of Antwon Blake prior to his injury struggles in his final season in Pittsburgh.